In Response offers a weekly roundup of feedback from TechRepublic members intended to help inform you and your peers about critical issues in the world of IT. This week, TechRepublic members share their opinions on the issue of software piracy.
How should you handle software piracy?
In a recent edition of his column View from Ground Zero, Jeff Davis shared his strong opposition to software piracy and called on all IT professionals to help keep their organizations and clients legal. In response to this article, we received lots of discussion comments and e-mail. Unfortunately, due to the volume of feedback, it’s not possible to publish every response. However, I believe I have presented the best balance of all the posts and e-mails below. Thank you to everyone who responded!

TechRepublic members respond…
Mike E.
“As for why people steal software, I doubt very much that most people look at it that way. I work with a lot of people who use software but who aren’t knowledgeable ‘about‘ software, and to most of them it’s like any other product that they ’own’—there’s no difference to them between ’loaning’ a friend a program CD and loaning that same friend a book, or a coffee mug, or a car (well, they’d probably be more careful about the car). Many of the folks with whom I work are quite literally shocked when I tell them their installation of the program that Charlie next door gave them is illegal; they just have no conception that they’re doing anything wrong. The real thieves who act with malice aforethought are, in my opinion, a small minority.”

Tim G.
“Be sure of the company policy. If you take an IT/IS/IIS job, ask to see their software piracy policy. In fact, ask to see it during the interview phase before you accept the job. If they don’t have one, chances are that they have one copy of the software purchased from a local store installed on every computer. This practice is especially rampant in local governments. There is a city government that I worked for as a water plant operator that I know had only one license for PC Anywhere, and the plant supervisor installed it on every PC—and then took it home. This was condoned by the city’s IT department and the city manager. I was told that those laws don’t apply to ’government.’

“Don’t hesitate to turn them in, and be 100 percent sure that you run a ’clean‘ ship. If you are the IS professional at your office, when the software cops show up, you will be the target, and you will be fired and blamed for it. I have a zero tolerance policy. If you install anything on your PC that is not authorized by me, I delete it. If you re-install it, I follow corporate procedures that are in place to deal with it. I won’t risk my job to make Jane in accounting happier because she can install her dog screen saver.”

“It’s not all black and white. It’s obvious that the contributors to this discussion haven’t worked with small businesses. I know of many small, successful companies who started off using more installations than they purchased licenses for. You have to do what it takes to get started sometimes. However, with the right encouragement, they get legal eventually. Should I turn my client in because they’re running two copies of Excel when they only have one license? It’s not going to happen…sorry. I don’t work for Microsoft. Am I going to install pirated software on my client’s machines? Hell, no. But you have to do what you have to do. Do any of you honestly think Bill Gates has paid for every single piece of software he’s installed on a PC? All that said, don’t pirate and don’t condone it, but you don’t have to be a rat either.”

Brian L.
“Absolutely correct. When I came on board, I was shocked at the amount of abuse that was allowed to slide. After many months of work and changes, I was able to get the licensure mostly in order. Needless to say, I certainly hope I will never run into that situation again, where half of the computer systems were automatically illegal. Now, when people say to me, ’Could you install Windows 98? I don’t like Windows 95, it doesn’t do any cool stuff.’ I tell them, ’No. We are 100 percent legal, with all the licenses for our current systems. When you get a new computer, it will come with the software it comes with, fully licensed and everything.’ Software piracy is just plain wrong. Keep it legal, people.“

Stuart H.
“Doing the right thing. It all comes down to a matter of ethics. If you think that going along with it will help you stand out as a ’good old boy,’ then think twice. A few years back in the Chicago area, a newly married couple drove off and left a bag with all their wedding money and checks ($16,000) on the roof of the car. A man found this and turned it all in. He was unemployed, and after the media spread this information about his honesty, he received 200 job offers in two weeks, and no one even saw his resume. If you are trying to be a ’good old boy,’ then remember that everyone is trying to be a ‘good old boy.’

“So stand out from the rest and show your ethics. When they ask you to install software, ask for proof of license. Ask for an e-mail asking you to install this software, and even ask them to specify the license number. Ask them to buy it. Warn them about the cost of software piracy, and show them several court cases of what companies paid (these are available from computer magazines and newspapers all over the place). It’s our job as IT professionals (just like lawyers) to push our companies to do the right thing, and if they won’t, then warn them and finally turn them in.”

“Here’s a question, hypothetical of course. How is someone supposed to learn new software? In the office is one thing, but how many non-IT employed individuals just starting out can afford a copy of NT Server, or Windows 2000 Server? Heck, even a copy of Office 2000 costs around $500. Think how much Visual Studio costs. How is a student ever going to afford that? I wish Microsoft would rent software like this for $50-$100 (for three to six months, for example) so people who wanted to learn the software could.”

“I read your article with great interest because my former employer had been illegally installing software on computers for years. I was hired at the company in a capacity in which I had no involvement in the building of the computers or installation of the software. I found out about my employer’s practices from other employees, and it eventually led to my resignation. I personally had no problems with the man, just his business ethics. Last fall, Microsoft prosecuted him for illegal software piracy. I had nothing to do with the initial contact to Microsoft, but when I heard about the case, I contacted Microsoft and offered to help with any additional information that I could. I was never contacted by them after I’d called, and the only thing that happened to the business owner was that he was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000, which he could well afford. As I watched the news for further information about the case, I was very disgusted and frustrated by the whole process and will be reluctant to make any effort in the future to help. I feel that if Microsoft was serious about this problem, people like my former employer would be punished more severely.”
Thanks to everyone who responded to this In Response! If you feel strongly about this topic, join the discussion. Are there topics you’d like to see discussed in future editions of In Response? Let us hear about it. Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.